The Gräfin’s two elder sons had made deplorable marriages. It was, observed Clovis, a family habit. The youngest boy, Wratislav, who was the black sheep of a rather greyish family, had as yet made no marriage at all.

‘There is certainly this much to be said for viciousness,’ said the Gräfin, ‘it keeps boys out of mischief.’

‘Does it?’ asked the Baroness Sophie, not by way of questioning the statement, but with a painstaking effort to talk intelligently. It was the one matter in which she attempted to override the decrees of Providence, which had obviously never intended that she should talk otherwise than inanely.

‘I don’t know why I shouldn’t talk cleverly,’ she would complain; ‘my mother was considered a brilliant conversationalist.’

‘These things have a way of skipping one generation,’ said the Gräfin.

‘That seems so unjust,’ said Sophie; ‘one doesn’t object to one’s mother having outshone one as a clever talker, but I must admit that I should be rather annoyed if my daughters talked brilliantly.’

‘Well, none of them do,’ said the Gräfin consolingly.

‘I don’t know about that,’ said the Baroness, promptly veering round in defence of her offspring. ‘Elsa said something quite clever on Thursday about the Triple Alliance. Something about it being like a paper umbrella, that was all right as long as you didn’t take it out in the rain. It’s not every one who could say that.’

‘Every one has said it; at least every one that I know. But then I know very few people.’

‘I don’t think you’re particularly agreeable today.’

‘I never am. Haven’t you noticed that women with a really perfect profile like mine are seldom even moderately agreeable?’

‘I don’t think your profile is so perfect as all that,’ said the Baroness.

‘It would be surprising if it wasn’t. My mother was one of the most noted classical beauties of her day.’

‘These things sometimes skip a generation, you know,’ put in the Baroness, with the breathless haste of one to whom repartee comes as rarely as the finding of a gold-handled umbrella.

‘My dear Sophie,’ said the Gräfin sweetly, ‘that isn’t in the least bit clever; but you do try so hard that I suppose I oughtn’t to discourage you. Tell me something: has it ever occurred to you that Elsa would do very well for Wratislav? It’s time he married somebody, and why not Elsa?’

‘Elsa marry that dreadful boy!’ gasped the Baroness.

‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ observed the Gräfin.

‘Elsa isn’t a beggar!’

‘Not financially, or I shouldn’t have suggested the match. But she’s getting on, you know, and has no pretensions to brains or looks or anything of that sort.’

‘You seem to forget that she’s my daughter.’

‘That shows my generosity. But, seriously, I don’t see what there is against Wratislav. He has no debts—at least, nothing worth speaking about.’

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